After returning from their first trip to Poppof’s house, everyone was awake and ready to go by mid-afternoon the next day. There was some grumbling about the poor haul of the previous day and the lack of portable wealth in the necromancer’s house, but given that their primary concern was the furniture anyways, they decided to go back. There was some discussion of whether Yury’s teleportation abilities could be used to transport the desired goods, but he insisted that he was not really capable of bringing significant amounts of non-living matter with him.
Zander performed an augury to confirm, with relative certainty, that there was a path through the city’s underground from their hideout beneath Kuto’s well and the door they had found in Poppof’s house. So, loaded up with spells that would allow them to home in on the lock of Isti’s hair that she had left in Poppof’s cellar, they set out into Phlan’s ancient sewers.
While technically connected to the sewer system, the catacombs under Kuto’s Well had been sealed off from the rest of the network several years earlier by Noriss the Grey, in order to make his hide-out more secure and harder to find. Isti cast the first locating spell and led the group to the a south-westerly corner of the catacombs, near to the rooms previously kept by Noriss’s mother. She used stone shape to open the wall, leading out into a much damper and dirtier passage. Once everyone had passed through, she closed the wall again, shaping the surface on this side into a crude carving of a faceless mask, similar to the one worn by Grinkle.
The locating spell led them through many winding and criss-crossing passageways. At each intersection, Tamn pulled out his chalk and marked arrows, always on the wall opposite the way back to their base, and always pointing the way opposite the way the spell pointed them in.
After about an hour of twisting through the constructed sewers of ages past, with their elevated side walkways and channels down the center, they came to a place where an underground stream had carved a natural chasm across their path. The runoff of water and mud that flowed through the sewers poured over the edge and into the small river below. In spring, after the snow-melt, it would have been a torrent, but now it was just a trickle. The spell, of course, told them to turn right.
The drop was a little under twenty feet, and the sides of the chasm were pitted from uneven erosion, so it was easy getting down and they had little concern about getting back up (except maybe with a table, but that was a problem to consider later). Once everyone was down, ankle deep in the dirty stream, Tamn had Zander and Grinkle hoist him up on the other side so he could leave his backwards mark where the chalk was less likely to be worn away by the moisture (at least not for a while).
Roughly a hundred of Grinkle’s paces down the stream, they came to an area where the stream cut into a deeper channel in the center, leaving the banks slightly higher, drier, and walkable without get mud in their boots. Overhead they could see another washed-out passage from the sewer system, this one with a fairly new-looking rope bridge strung across. Just beneath the bridge was a small pile of litter—bones, broken boards, old weapons, and even a few coins—presumably dropped by those passing above.
Yury strode up to grab the coins, because, hey, free coins. Suddenly, a human skull on the ground near him sprang upward, as if a geyser or volcanic eruption were impelling it explosively in a ballistic arc at Yury’s startled face. The skull slammed into his nose, knocking his head backwards with an eruption of blood. Then he found that the skull was attached to a hook-clawed apparition of deadly muscle and sinew, its three hooked claws tearing into his flesh.
Isti chucked her axe at the thing, hitting the skull right between the eyes and knocking it backwards off of Yury. Grinkle caught Yury as he fell backwards and immediately said a prayer over him, willing his wounds closed. The skull-creature bounded forward, the jaws distending impossibly wide and snapping down to bite hard into Yury’s raised forarm.
Zander charged in, slamming the creature backwards with his shield, then crushing the skull with his flail. The creature slumped, the skull splitting open to reveal a tiny, leathery head, using the skull like a shell. He bashed it a few more times for good measure, just to make sure it was dead, then scooped up the coins, which only amounted to a small handful of copper.
They continued downstream, pausing briefly for Isti to cast a second locating spell. A short ways on the spell indicated another passage above them. The walls here were steeper and smoother, the passage above being one-way, instead of crossing the stream as before, and nearly 25 feet off of the floor.
Isti, the best climber, scrambled up, hammering a piton in the top and tying off a rope. Tamn marked the opposing wall before climbing up last, grumbling that there was no way they’d get that mahogany table home this way.
They walked a short ways, then rounded a corner to another drop, this one about six feet down to a large confluence where three crossing sewer passages met at a large cesspit. Faint light and globs of muddy snow dropped through grates from the street above. Next to the opening where they were standing was an old metal ladder bolted to the wall, going up to one of the street-level grates. Isti pointed to the third passage on their right
Zander climbed down first, the party’s strongest fighter having finally agreed to take point, followed by the others. He circled to the right, trying to stay away from the cesspit, and chanting a litany of repentance against the stench and the grime of the sewers. He had just crossed the second passage when something burst out of the passage, slamming into his side and knocking him impiously close to the edge of the cesspool. A dozen other hunched humanoids poured out of the surrounding passages, blades in their hands and tails whipping behind them.
Three more of the creatures grabbed the already over-balanced Zander and all four of them pitched him headlong into the cesspit. His head broke the bubbling surface of the fouled water briefly, gasping, then sank out of sight again as his limbs thrashed wildly. Zander couldn’t swim, especially not in his full chainmail.
Three more came out of the passage closest to Grinkle, stabbing with their filthy swords. The first caught him off guard, digging into his side. He swung his sword wildly, deflecting the second thrust, then fell backwards away from the third. When he recovered his wits and footing, he noticed that his assailants has elongated noses with long whiskers and large ears, like mice or rats. He hazarded a glance down at his bleeding side, his mind wandering to what Professor Aiderns had told him about rats and the plague…
Yury spotted five more coming from the passage on the far side of the room, across the cesspit. A wave of his giant arm sent streams of webbing flying towards them, entangling four of the creatures and holding them fast. Two more stepped out of the passage near Grinkle and came at Yury from behind, leaping on him and bearing him to the ground.
Tamn’s hands went for his swords, until he saw Zander’s helpless thrashing. With a mighty leap, for a halfling, he dove headfirst into the disgusting water, his form perfect and his lungs filled to capacity before he disappeared beneath the churning sludge.
The last rat-creature from the other side of the cesspit, dove ahead of the webs and sprang into the air, passing right over Tamn’s head as he went into the water. It landed right next to Isti, grazing her arm with its blade. Isti’s shout of alarm was also the last word of the spell she’d been muttering though, and suddenly the rat found himself surrounded by a half-dozen identical copies of the kobold.
A moment later, Tamn came back to the surface, the surprisingly strong halfling easily dragging his larger friend. As their heads come up though, they find four ratmen waiting for them. Tamn yelled at Zander to kick, and the tall man’s legs shoved against the wall throwing the two of them further out into the middle of the cesspool, but not before they had each taken small cuts from the ratmen’s blades.
The ratman facing the squadron of Isti’s looked around frantically, then let out a scream of rage, swinging his sword in a broad sideways ark. Isti leaped backwards, but the blade passed through two of the images, causing them to wink out. The four remaining Isti’s drew identical hooked bronze swords and lunged at the ratman from every direction at once. He tried to dodge, but the one solid blade hit him squarely in the back, cutting a deep gouge and eliciting a second scream.
Grinkle backed away from the three facing him, circling until he was in the wan light from one of the street-grates above. The rats pressed in, looking for openings. Grinkle hazarded a brief glance up and saw a faint slash of sunlight falling on the grate, just enough. He raised his pumice-stone holy symbol up towards the light, causing a beam of the light to bend, amplify and flash directly into the face of one of the rats with flesh-scorching brightness. The rat reeled back, clawing at his burned face and pitched into the cesspool. Its companion, however, took the opening Grinkle presented and plunged its sword into his armpit.
Yury, pinned beneath a pair of ratmen, tried to roll, flailing with his gigantic arm and prehensile tail. While not particularly strong, neither were the rats, and the shear bulk of his huge limb was sufficient to brush them aside. As he rolled away and stood up, his form began to waver, shift, into an insubstantial blur.
Tamn took a deep breath, calling up reserves of strength from his days of hard labor as a slave, dove, hitched his hands under Zander’s rear, and practically threw the big man out of the water. Zander crashed into the feet of the waiting ratmen, forcing them to hop back several steps to avoid being knocked down.
The blurry Yury tossed a fistful of daggers at the ratmen nearest him. All three blades struck home, but the wounds closed as soon as they were made. They were at least enough to put the two ratmen off balance, making it all that much harder to strike Yury’s unfocused form. Grinkle, watching from one side, growled out some obscenities about lycanthropes, and continued to fence with the two assailing him, though none of the three landed a blow.
The were-rat assailing Isti swung like crazy, causing another of her images to vanish. The three remaining Isti’s though, danced around, keeping him guessing as to which was the real one. The real Isti, meanwhile, waited until his back was to her before swinging, one again plunging her hooked sword deep into the ratman’s back. The dodging, weaving kobold images had edged the ratman just close enough to where Zander had just come out of the foul-smelling water.
Zander rolled, hit the stone floor with his shield, and came to his feet with his flail gripped backwards. He brought the silver pommel-spike up under the jaw of the ratman that was attacking Isti, dropping it. He then whipped the head around, planting the spikes deep in the chest of a second were-rat, and leaving a trail of glowing motes hanging in the air behind it. Two of the remaining rats came in right behind, stabbing him repeatedly.
Unable to harm them with his weapons, Yury focused his concentration on one of the two were-rats still threatening him and telekinetically lifted it off the ground, hurling the startled ratman into his companion and pitching both of them into the pool. Tamn, seeing them fall in, dove, then came up right underneath of them, disembowling both with his silver shortsword. As Tamn’s head came up through the sheen of floating blood and viscera, Yury scooped the halfling out with his tail.
Halfway around the pool now, and almost to the webs, Grinkle continued to fend off his two assailants. He took a small cut above the eye from one of them, but they continued to fend off his own blows.
The three rats facing Zander lunged together, all three blades scoring hits, one just missing his kidney. Seeing him wounded, the trio of Isti’s rushed between him and the were-rats, swinging their swords and trying to distract the rats away from the injured man. Zander took the opening provided by their distraction and whipped his flail over the kobold’s heads, taking off the top of one were-rat’s head and smashing into the snout of a second with the follow-through. The wounded rat and his companion broke and run, disappearing into one of the many side passages (luckily not the one that Isti had told the party they needed.
Across the way, one of Grinkle’s assailants landed a solid blow. Grinkle stepped back and layed a hand over the wound. Frothing bubbles roiled up from his hands, cleaning and closing the gash. Unfortunately, his momentary distraction from casting the healing spell was just enough for the second rat to stab him in the shoulder.
Yury turned to see Grinkle be hit, twice, and telekinetically hurled Tamn across the breach. The halfling-missile took the head clean off of one of the rats with his silver sword, then barreled into Grinkle, knocking him backwards. Tamn rolled to his feet, planted firmly between the rat and his prey. Isti and Zander came running and quickly dispatched the last, frightened, surrounded were-rat.
As the rest of the party patched themselves up, Isti lit a torch and walked around to the other web-encased were-rats. Her pet rat, Sıçan, climbed up on her shoulder and began translating her speech into rat. She threatened the were-rats, giving them the choice to either burn to death, or join the party’s “gang”. All of the others expressed their displeasure at this offer, saying they were better off just killing the ratmen who had ambushed them. Zander, having had some understandably bad experiences with rats back in Hillsfar, was the most insistent. Isti agreed with them and tossed the torch into the webs. None of the wererats were killed by the fire, but they were sufficiently injured that they scurried away as fast as they could.
Tamn suggested that, given the multiple changes in elevation, running sewer water, and the fact that they’d been jumped twice already, that maybe hauling Poppof’s furniture back to their hideout through the sewer was not a great idea.
The others agreed, but Isti pointed out that one way or another, she needed to retrieve the lock of hair that she had left, since the necromancer would likely be able to use such a token to track them back to their home. So they pressed on.
To be continued…